is an odd duck of a movie. Now, its certainly not surprising that a film
by the notoriously quirky Coen brothers would be offbeat, but this is off-the-radar
strange, even for them. Which puts the movie into a weird little dilemma,
all the characters are so over-the-top and cartoonish that even when what
they do or say is funny
and there is a good deal of amusing stuff
the audience is not at all invested into the characters. It is
nearly impossible to gain any rooting interest for or against the group who
populate this world, just because they dont appear to be
people like any
others that we ever have met.
Hanks plays Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D., a man as fussy and rigid
as his name. He claims to be a Professor of dead romance languages and
rents a room from a good-hearted widowed church lady (Irma P. Hall) so that
he and his friends can practice ensemble pieces of renaissance music. His
real plan is to use the good-natured Bible belt womans root cellar to have
his gang forage a tunnel into the vault of the offices of a nearby riverboat
casino. The gang is made up of more ciphers, Marlon Wayans plays the
janitor working as an inside man at the casino, J.K. Simmons is the
eccentric detonation expert, Tzi Ma is the
cold-hearted tunneling expert and Ryan Hurst is
the dim-witted, but good-hearted muscle.
far as Tom Hanks portrayal of Dorr, I suspect that most people will either
truly love it or absolutely hate it. There is little room for a middle
ground. Personally, I found it an intriguing, but ultimately perplexing and
distracting. Dorr appears to be a strange mish-mash of Col. Sanders, Peter
Lorre, Elmer Fudd and the piano player from
To call it over-the-top would be redundant, Hanks is chewing scenery with
such gusto that his performance reaches surreal levels, particularly when he
occasionally starts to chortle right in the middle of a sentence. Yes, I
know that was the point of the character, but it doesnt make it any less
confounding. I do believe that Hanks was doing the character just as the
Coens imagined him, though. If that is the case, then
he really did nail the role, strange as it may seem to say.
only character that reverberates to the audience in any good way, though she
is a cartoon character too, is that of the widow Marva. Yes, Marva is a bit
of a stereotype, the robust black woman who feels that everything outside of
church is the devils work and will not stand for any guff. However, at
least she is recognizable as springing from a real human type. A running
gag about Marva sending monthly checks to Bob Jones University because it is
a bible school is funny, however it is amusing at the expense of the
character. Marva is a smart, no-nonsense woman who is constantly talking
about the school, I cant believe for a second that she would not have heard
of that Universitys reputation. In another scene she is talking to the
sheriff (George Wallace) about African-American pride and she refers to it
being the age of Montel. Again, its a clever line, but its trying so to
hard to be sharp that it diminishes the character saying it.
Oh, I do have to say, though, that Marva's
pet Pickles is the best feline character in the movies is a good long time.
You may have to go all the way back to Harry & Tonto (1974) to find
such a good cat performance.
with most Coen brothers films,
has a strange timelessness. It looks and acts very old-fashioned, but
apparently takes place in the modern day. The cinematography is lovely and
some of the shots are breath taking. For example, a shot of a tugboat
tugging a huge barge full of trash up a river is shockingly majestic.
(Particularly the first time you see it, later story developments lead you
to believe that this trip is an hourly occurrence in this town.)
have never seen the classic British film of the same name with Alec
Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, which this is loosely based on.
However, my understanding is that the criminals are desperate to be
unobtrusive and the elderly lady that they board with at least appears to be
frail. That seems to make a lot more sense as a story. Honestly, the
criminals here dont look like they ever had a chance in going up against
a force of nature like Marva.
did enjoy a great deal of
and yet at the same time
Im not sure I could say I consider it a particularly good movie. Im glad
that the Coens are always willing to try something new and different with
their work. The cinema needs more visionaries like them. However, I think
this one is going to have to be filed under failed experiments. (3/04)
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Posted: March 29, 2004.